Chief Justice Announces Appointments to the Commission on the Katahdin Counsel Recognition Program

October 26, 2011

AUGUSTA, Maine In honor of National Pro Bono Week, Chief Justice Leigh I. Saufley today announced the formation of the Katahdin Counsel Recognition Program to recognize attorneys who stand out in donating their time and talent to Maine people who cannot afford lawyers. She also announced the membership of a commission to advise the Court on the operation of the program.

The Katahdin Counsel will recognize attorneys who provide 50 hours or more of pro bono legal representation to Mainers in a year. Attorneys who meet this milestone will be recognized next year as members of the Counsel.

Chief Justice Saufley said, “There is a crisis today in courts across the Country, and Maine is no different. Our rough estimate is that 70% of the people in Maine’s Courts cannot afford to hire a lawyer. Understanding and navigating a complex legal system without professional help can be very difficult. As we all recognize, access to lawyers in civil cases is necessary to make equal justice a reality.”

She continued, “Too many Maine people are faced with navigating a complex legal system and trying to address pressing legal problems without the assistance of legal professionals. The situation is particularly acute now, as the recession has caused many financial problems to become legal problems: child support issues, evictions and debt collection, foreclosure, to name a few. An increasing number of the poor and disadvantaged are turning to legal aid programs because they have nowhere else to go, but the legal aid programs cannot meet this urgent need alone.

Maine people and the courts need, and greatly appreciate, the thousands of hours Maine lawyers donate to their fellow citizens. The Katahdin Counsel Recognition Program has been created to recognize lawyers who so generously give of their time and legal talents to Mainers in need and to inspire other attorneys to follow in their path.

The Chief Justice said she was particularly pleased to announce that Ralph I. Lancaster, a prominent Portland attorney, had agreed to be the Chairman of the Commission.

“Ralph has had a storied legal career as a great legal advocate for his clients,” she remarked “Now he will be advocating for the importance of pro bono work with his fellow lawyers to assist Maine people who desperately need legal assistance. I cannot think of a better advocate and we are grateful to Ralph and the other Commission members, several of whom are here today, for agreeing to partner with the court in this challenging task. Thank you Ralph, and fellow Commission members.”

The other members of the commission are: Thomas Berry, Esq. of Boothbay Harbor; Virginia Davis, Esq. of Augusta, David Fletcher, Esq. of Calais, Nan Heald, Esq. of Portland, Kerry Jordan, Esq. of Orono, Barbara Raimondi, Esq. of Auburn, Charles Smith, Esq. of Saco, and Juliet Holmes-Smith, of Portland.

The Chief Justice was joined at the press conference by Associate Justice Jon Levy, several members of the Katahdin Counsel Commission, as well as representatives of the Maine State Bar Association, and legal services providers.